RFE/RL: Safe in Belarus and 'still president'

The ousted leader of Kyrgyzstan said Wednesday from exile in Belarus that he is still president of his Central Asian country.

Kurmanbek Bakiyev was deposed in an April 7 uprising that left 85 people dead in the Kyrgyz capital. He fled last week to neighboring Kazakhstan and arrived in the Belarusian capital earlier this week.

In his first public comments from exile, Kyrgyzstan's ousted leader said he remains the legitimate president of the country and called on the international community not to recognize the interim government in Bishkek.

Speaking in the Belarusian capital, Minsk, Bakiev said he was retracting a handwritten letter of resignation brandished by the authorities who forced him from power.

"I do not recognize my resignation," Bakiev said, pledging to "explain later" before going on to say: "Nine months ago, the people of Kyrgyzstan elected me their president and I swore to serve them. There is no power that can stop me from fulfilling my oath. Only death can stop me."

Bakiev described the interim authorities as a "gang" that "loots and kills."

Bakiev also said he was "ready to bear legal responsibility," but it was unclear if he meant he would answer for the violence in Bishkek, as the interim leaders are urging.

A Wanted Man

Bakiev was deposed in an April 7 uprising that left 85 people dead in Kyrgyzstan's capital, Bishkek, and brought a new interim government to power.

Bakiev later fled to neighboring Kazakhstan and arrived in Belarus earlier this week under what Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka called the protection "of our state, and personally of the president."

Lukashenka said Belarus had acted according to its responsibilities under the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a regional grouping that includes Belarus and Kyrgyzstan, and called on other members to meet to discuss the situation.

But the head of the interim government, Roza Otunbaeva, late on April 20 condemned Belarus's decision to provide refuge to Bakiev, saying: "This criminal must be handed over back to our country. If that does not happen, there is Interpol."

In an interview with RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service today, Otunbaeva encouraged Bakiev to return to Kyrgyzstan.

"If he is so strong, let him come to Kyrgyzstan. Let him fly back. And here, parents, brothers, and relatives of those who were killed [in the clashes], and all the Kyrgyz people will be waiting for him. Then we cannot take any responsibility for what kind of a trial and what kind of a punishment would be expected for him," Otunbaeva said.

The Kyrgyz interim government's chief of staff said Bakiev, who is accused along with relatives over their roles in the shooting of demonstrators on April 7, could return to Kyrgyzstan only to face trial. Edil Baisalov called on the people of Belarus today not to let Bakiev use their country to "destabilize the situation in Kyrgyzstan."

During a visit to Bishkek on April 20, Kazakh Foreign Minister Kanat Saudabaev, who currently chairs the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, said Bakiev's departure from Kyrgyzstan would help ease tension in the country.

"Mr. Bakiev's departure from the country has now been secured, which has allowed to end a certain state of diarchy in the country, decreased tension, and provided the provisional government with conditions to begin the implementation its declared program," Saudabaev said.

More Scuffles

Continuing unrest in southern Kyrgyzstan is meanwhile highlighting the challenges facing interim authorities.

At the southern city of Jalal-Abad's central square today, scuffles broke out between hundreds of supporters of the ousted president and people backing the interim government. The authorities said they had arrested a number of Bakiev allies.

RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reports that the crowds dispersed and tension appeared to have eased after security forces shot into the air and the regional governor addressed the gatherings.

Bektur Asanov, who has been appointed by the provisional government, called on all citizens of Kyrgyzstan to keep order and cooperate. He also said his administration had allowed pro-Bakiev activists to hold gatherings until today to "show its respect to what Bakiev did for the country before April 7."

But after today, he warned, no rally in Bakiev's support will be allowed.

'Deadly Force'

The warning came two days after Bakiev supporters forcibly entered the building of the regional administration in Jalal-Abad and appointed a rival governor, Paizullabek Rakhmanov.

However, Asanov told RFE/RL today that most of the government agencies in the city have started to function "normally." "Right now we are taking adequate measures. More than 500 voluntary policemen will be located here [at the main square], they will be provided with shelter and food here," Asanov said.

"On the other hand, today, all policemen in the Jalal-Abad region and the town are operating at full force. All government structures, especially law enforcement forces, started working normally. I would say there is no danger in the region."

Late on April 20, interim leader Otunbaeva warned looters and armed assailants that police would use "deadly force" against them. She urged the people of Kyrgyzstan to "keep calm, suppress provocations, fight back against ringleaders and the forces who seek to destroy public peace and interethnic harmony."

That message followed unrest on the edges of Bishkek on April 20 that left five people dead and prompted Russia - which has a small military base in northern Kyrgyzstan - to order the Russian military to protect ethnic Russians in the country.

At a press conference on April 20, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said Kyrgyzstan faced anarchy and warned of regional consequences. Russian agencies quoted an unnamed Foreign Ministry official as saying Moscow no longer considers Bakiev president.

Both the United States and Russia are talking with the interim government and have offered assistance.

Other Developments

In other developments, Kyrgyz media reported today that the interim government has introduced new, lower utility prices, effective from April 1. An increase in utility prices introduced by former Prime Minister Daniyar Usenov in January had sparked protest demonstrations in the country.

The press office of Kyrgyzstan's prosecutor-general announced today that some $7 million was confiscated from business associates of Maksim Bakiev, the former president's son.

It said the money was confiscated from deposit boxes in a Bishkek bank at the order of the city prosecutor's office. A criminal case against Maksim Bakiev was opened earlier by interim officials.

The country's interim government also announced today the date of a nationwide referendum on the constitution, as well as for parliamentary elections.

Omurbek Tekebaev, the deputy chief of the interim government, said on state television that the referendum is scheduled for June 27. The parliamentary polls are to be held October 10.

Tekebaev also announced that human rights activist Toleikan Ismailova has been appointed to chair the Central Election Commission. He said a new commission will be selected by Kyrgyz nongovernmental organizations, interim government authorities, and United Nations officials.

Based on reports from RFE/RL's Belarus and Kyrgyz services, with additional wire reports.



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